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Your Self-Help Book Should Not Be a Thinly Disguised Memoir

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If you're writing a memoir, and it's your very first attempt at writing (or writing seriously for publication), odds are good that you won't yet be skillful enough to pass muster with an agent or editor. (See this YouTube lesson from master storyteller Ira Glass on why.)

Many people are sparked to write a memoir after they overcome great pain and adversity in their lives, as a means of catharsis, as well as to help others going through the same thing.

Based on writers I meet at conferences, about 50% of the time this memoir is actually positioned or written as a self-help book.

I've said it many times before, but it bears repeating:

Do not attempt to write a self-help book that's a thinly disguised memoir. (And do not attempt a hybrid of the genres.)

Just because you experienced something (and overcame personal adversity) doesn't mean a publisher will find you a qualified self-help author—unless you are a celebrity, have an amazing platform, or outstanding connections/endorsements.

So: Either put your blood, sweat, and tears into writing a kick-ass memoir that stuns people with its artfulness and well-crafted narrative … OR … get active online, offering support, encouragement, and advice on your own site/blog, or in communities focused on the challenge you overcame. If your true goal is to help people, this approach is likely to be far more effective and fulfilling than trying to publish a book.

For more in-depth discussion of these issues, see my two previous posts on memoir:

5 Common Flaws in Memoir Projects

Your No. 1 Challenge If You're Writing a Memoir

Also check out Rachelle Gardner's excellent coverage on this topic:

Personal Adversity Stories

Resources for Writing Memoir

Writing Memoir

Note: This Thursday, I'm a guest on a free teleseminar on memoir writing, hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. Go sign up.

Photo credit: smaku

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